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Tackling leukaemia

14 Chwefror 2008

Dr Saman Hewamana

Scientists from the University have made an important discovery in the development of a new treatment for leukaemia.

A team led by Dr Chris Pepper of the School of Medicine has discovered that large amounts of a protein called NF-kB are linked to the growth of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of the disease in adults in the UK.

Dr Saman Hewamana, a Leukaemia Research clinical training fellow who is part of the research group found that significant levels of the protein are present in CLL cells, with the highest amounts found in patients with the most aggressive form of the disease.

In addition, Dr Hewamana has been able to show that an experimental drug, tested in actual patients' cells in the laboratory can block NF-kB action, resulting in the death of leukaemia cells.

Importantly, his research has also shown that the new drug can kill leukaemia cells in samples derived from patients who are resistant to conventional chemotherapy.

Dr Chris Pepper of the Department of Haematology at School of Medicine said: "These are very promising results and if they can be repeated in a clinical setting, drugs aimed at disabling NF-kB could become an important addition to the treatment options for this form of leukaemia."

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia affects more than 3,500 patients in the UK each year. Clinical trials of the new drug will start in Cardiff in the near future.

The research has been funded by Leukaemia Research UK and is published in the Haematology journal Blood.